Balkan Odyssey

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

David Owen, a member of the British Parliament from 1966 to 1992 and the holder of several Cabinet positions (notably as Minister of the Navy and Foreign Secretary), joined in 1992 with former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to create a plan for peace in the former Yugoslavia: Approximately 51 percent of a new Bosnia would be given to the Croats and Muslims and 49 percent to the Serbs. It would be one country based on a loose confederation of three separate entities for the Croats, Muslims, and Serbs.

Soon it became clear that the United States would not support the plan. Indeed, the United States advised the Muslims to hold out for more territory, and it resisted Owen’s position that a peace plan had to be imposed on all parties. If a country as powerful as the United States favored one of the parties in the dispute, then no peace was possible, Owen concluded.

Owen is quite resentful that it took the United States so long to come to a realistic settlement in the former Yugoslavia. Peace in reality meant virtually a partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina into separate ethnic enclaves—in effect, a ratification of ethnic cleansing that went way beyond what was contemplated in the Vance-Owen plan.

Owen suggests that the United States has a virtual veto over European foreign policy, and Europeans must consult closely with the United States whether they wish to or not. It is almost beside the point to criticize Europeans for not solving their own problems when the warring factions of Bosnia, for example, looked to the United States to help solve their problems.

Owen’s book may put off some readers because of its relentless accounts of meetings, timetables, redrawn maps, and passages studded with acronyms. Yet as an insight into the workings of international diplomacy and an account of how personalities and policies clash and sometimes cohere, Owen’s book is indispensable.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. March 28, 1996, p. B2.

The Economist. CCCXXXVII, December 16, 1995, p. 7.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 18, 1996, p. 10.

The New Republic. CCXIV, March 11, 1996, p. 34.

New Statesman and Society. VIII, December 8, 1995, p. 31.

The New York Review of Books. XLIII, February 29, 1996, p. 8.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, January 21, 1996, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, December 11, 1995, p. 64.

San Francisco Chronicle. April 28, 1996, Section 10, p. 1.

The Times Literary Supplement. November 24, 1995, p. 10.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, March 10, 1996, p. 1.